New Jersey’s Temp Workers Win a Bill of Rights!
Tens of thousands of New Jersey temporary help and staffing agency workers were essential but unprotected during the pandemic but will soon enjoy robust new rights and protections. They triumphed over significant challenges, building power with support from Make the Road NJ and New Labor, to pass the “Temporary Workers’ Bill of Rights” on February 2, 2023.
After a version of the bill passed both chambers in June 2022, a clerical error caused a series of delays, spurring intensified lobbying by the industry. The workers persevered, returning to Trenton repeatedly to make their voices heard, highlighting poverty wages and how taxpayers subsidize temp agencies by more than $20 million per year, and calling out agencies opposing the bill that were not even registered to operate in New Jersey.
As Reynalda Cruz, a New Labor leader and former temp worker, explained: the new law “has been a long time coming for us, after having passed the Assembly and Senate twice previously. Temp workers need more protections and temp agencies need to be regulated! We’ve seen it through multiple votes, and when we fight we win!”
Temp workers need more protections and temp agencies need to be regulated! We’ve seen it through multiple votes, and when we fight we win!
Nidia Rodrigues, a temp worker and member of Make the Road NJ echoed the excitement: “Finally, essential temp workers have the opportunity for just and dignified jobs, and a better future. This is a victory led by and for the hundreds of thousands of essential temp workers who have organized for years.”
Reflecting key worker priorities, the New Jersey law contains several provisions for transforming low-wage, precarious jobs into good jobs. Workers assigned to designated occupations by temporary help and staffing agencies will enjoy:
- Equal Pay for Equal Work: Temp workers will be paid the same as direct-hire employees performing the same or substantially similar work, with both temp agencies and host employers liable for violations.
- Fair Scheduling Requirements: Temp agencies will provide 48 hours’ notice of scheduling changes when possible, and workers will be entitled to pay for canceled shifts.
- Opportunities for Permanent Employment: Restrictions on direct employment with a host employer will be prohibited, and limits on temp agency placement fees will enable workers to move to permanent jobs.
- Agency Certification: Rigorous, oath-bound certification requirements and prohibitions on contracting with non-certified temp agencies will incentivize compliance. A website will list certified temp agencies and those whose certifications have been suspended or revoked.
- Transportation Regulation: Transportation fees will be banned, and any transportation offered must meet insurance and safety standards.
- Transparency: Significant notice and recordkeeping requirements will help insure against deceptive and discriminatory recruitment and job assignment, enable data collection, and empower workers with critical information. Among them:
- Right-to-Know provisions: workers will receive detailed notice of each assignment in their primary language including pay rate; name and nature of the work and length of assignment; contact information for the temp agency, host employer, and labor department; transportation terms, and more.
- Paystub transparency provisions will detail the basis for pay and the maximum placement fee the temp agency can charge the host employer.
- Workers will have notice of, and the right to refuse, placement at any host employer where there is a strike, lockout, or employment dispute.
- Temp agencies will provide records at no cost to the worker and make them available for government inspection for six years.
- Temp agencies will post notice of the law with a number to file complaints in languages understood by the community.
- Temp agencies must report on the number of workers placed in permanent jobs per year, and as a percentage of the total number of workers engaged by the agency.
- Retaliation Protections: Both temp agencies and host employers may be liable for retaliation, and discipline within 90 days of a worker’s exercise of rights will give rise to a presumption of retaliation. A worker who proves retaliation may receive damages equal to $20,000 per incident or more.
- Surety Bond Requirements: Temp agencies whose workers are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement must obtain a surety bond of no less than $200,000 to benefit workers who suffer wage and other violations of the law.
- Robust Enforcement: Workers will be able to bring a lawsuit individually or on behalf of similarly temp workers against an agency or a host employer, and significant civil penalties will deter violations.
Most of the provisions of this terrific victory will take effect on August 5, 2023, but the critical protections against retaliation and the Right-to-Know provisions take effect on May 7, 2023.
For the scores of temp workers routinely assigned to the covered occupations, passage of the law is only the beginning. Workers look forward to the improved conditions that implementation will bring and, ultimately, to ensuring all temp workers, regardless of assignment or state of residence, enjoy the same basic protections.